As a boy, Kurt Curtiss didn't understand all the tragic stories that guided dozens of children through the open door of his mother's foster home in Diamond Valley, Arizona.
All he knew was that he had plenty of brothers and sisters to play with, to fight with, and to lean on in difficult times.
Today, Curtiss' four siblings and more than 60 foster siblings are leaning on each other once again, as they try to come to terms with the 27-year-old soldier's death in Afghanistan.
Curtiss, who spent his early years in a crowded home in Arizona and moved to Salt Lake City as a teen, was killed Tuesday in a firefight as his patrol responded to evacuate a hospital that had come under attack, family members said. His death adds to the somber tally of U.S. military fatalities in the month of August. At least 46 U.S. service members - including former Brigham Young University student Cory Jenkins - have died so far this month, the most since the start of the eight-year war.
The Utahns' deaths were the first combat fatalities for the state since February, and the first deaths for Utahns in Afghanistan in more than a year, even as the latter nation has grown increasingly violent and hazardous for U.S. military members.
Speaking to the American Legion's national convention on Tuesday, the commander of the U.S. Central Command warned that Afghanistan will remain dangerous for some time to come.
Gen. David Petraeus said that "an enormous amount of hard work and tough fighting lies ahead."
Curtiss had already endured hard battles. He had done two tours of duty in Iraq and told his mother that the situation he found in his most recent deployment in Afghanistan was "brutal."
"He didn't say much more than that," said Ruth Serrano of South Ogden. "I don't know if he wasn't allowed to, or if he just didn't want to worry people. I don't know."
But Serrano said her son understood sacrifice - and not just because there were times in his childhood when all there was to eat was mutton stew and fry bread.
Curtiss was an 18-year-old Salt Lake Community College student when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred. The following day, he walked into an Army recruiter's office and signed up, Serrano said.
"He said he wanted to help protect the United States," said Curtiss' sister, Lynn Burr of Arizona. "He felt we were in danger and he wanted to do something to help."
Curtiss, who leaves behind a wife, a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter in Alaska, renewed that commitment by reenlisting in the Army, even though he knew it would likely mean another combat tour of duty.
On Friday, family members were still trying to contact all of Curtiss' foster siblings. With each new phone call, Burr said, comes new anguish.
But it also provides yet another person to lean on in this difficult time.
"We're family," said Burr. "And we're all here to help each other out."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.